GREENSBORO, N.C. — State of the conference addresses are typically as fascinating as C-SPAN, but ACC commissioner John Swofford found an attentive audience Sunday, curious to hear his thoughts regarding the television arms race.
Since Swofford's last such address, the SEC captured a third straight national title and the largest TV contract in the history of college football: 15-year deals with ESPN and CBS for roughly $3 billion.
Despite the recession and athletic departments hurting across the country, SEC commissioner Mike Slive said his conference is entering a "golden age" at its media days last week, a claim of hegemony
undisputed by ACC officials.
SEC programs will be awash in cash as the new TV contracts begin this season and run through 2024. Dollars widening a competitive divide between the SEC and everyone else, most notably the ACC, its overlapping geographic rival.
Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Miami must each contend with in-state SEC rivals, holding new advantages in regard to coaching compensation, facilities and support staffs.
"If you look historically, there are going to be separations now and then from conference to conference with television contracts depending when they are negotiated,'' Swofford said. "The gap on this one is different than in the past. We'll just have to see how that plays out over time."
The ACC's TV deals — Raycom (basketball) and ESPN/ABC (football) — expire in 2011. For the next two seasons, SEC teams will earn $17 million per year in football TV money compared to the ACC's $6.1 million per team.
Moreover, of the six BCS conferences, the ACC ranks fifth in football TV revenue, above only the Big East.
Swofford said the conference has begun discussions with ESPN and Raycom. The ACC is also exploring new models which, according to Sports Business Journal, include a possible network partnership with the Big 12 and Pac 10.
"We are taking a look at whatever new models may be out there,'' Swofford said. "It's hard to make the playing field level.''
Especially difficult since Sports Illustrated reported this week that ESPN promised the SEC a de facto network with the new deal. The SEC considered creating its own network like the Big 10 prior to the agreement.
Swofford said the depth of the ACC has been overlooked. The conference ranked first in the Massey ratings and third in the Sagarin ratings last season.
He thinks the conference has been hurt by a lack of teams in the national title hunt. Conversely, the SEC has won three straight titles, buoying its visibility nationally.
"It's about doing the best you can with what you have whether it is a lot or whether it is a little," Swofford said. "Sometimes people do very well with a lot, sometimes they don't.''
That said, Swofford and the ACC would rather have a lot.